Friday, 30 May 2008

The Wages of Gin........................."May I play through, my husband is dying?"

If you are going to be ill it is important to pick the most convenient place. So I came over all queer in my local clinic, surrounded by the nurses who, three times a week, dress my Henry VIII ulcerous legs. They produced an oxygen cylinder and a doctor, took my house keys and rang a neighbour - because Celia, the Head Ferret was, of course, playing golf near Cambridge in the lovely Gog Magog hills.

The doctor was followed by a paramedic in green battle dress, festooned with stay-alive kit. A large man, who, in my confused state, I took to be the Jolly Green Giant. He was immediately joined by an ambulance crew, two delightful ladies still a little startled because the last patient they had gone to pick up had told them to F…. off.

These poor girls began the paperwork on my case as the ambulance left the surgery and had just completed it as we drew into Peterborough District Hospital half an hour later.

My neighbours meanwhile were slightly put out because, having gone to enormous trouble to find out where the Head Ferret was playing, they rang the club house to break the bad news and were told: “Could you ring back in ten minutes, she is just on the last hole?”

Peterborough District Hospital was a revelation. It shone with cleanliness and on every wall there was a hygienic hand spray with a notice to medical staff: “Do not pass this”. On the ward, constant hand washing. It was like kibitzing on a convention of Uriah Heeps but very comforting since I have lost two friends to MRSA.

I was disconcerted by a notice on the lift which said: “If you are not well, do not enter this ward.” I pointed out to the ambulance crew that this pretty well ruled me out but they said not to worry, it was for visitors, not patients. Incredibly, suffering from infectious diseases does not suggest to some visitors that their visit is unwise.

I had not been tucked up in bed long when the Head Ferret arrived, with the observation that it would have been much more convenient if I had gone to Addenbrookes which she could see from the 18th tee. It was reassuring to learn that she had dropped off at home to feed the dog.

Plainly this had exhausted her. Because when the first doctor arrived to assess me, Celia was relaxing on the bed and I was sitting in the visitor’s chair, where I should not have been, according to the notice, because I was not feeling well.

The process from admission to release took seven hours but this is in no way a criticism of the doctors and nurses. There were only two doctors to deal with sixteen patients, who were all emergencies, and in the wards a nurse to every sixteen beds. The two doctors on the assessment ward were also responsible for the other patients in the wards surrounding.

When I commiserated with the Registrar on being so short staffed, she put me right at once: “We are not short staffed,” she said, and she had a smile which lit the ward. “That is the establishment for the wards.”

So the next time you complain about the Health Service, remember the Registrar with the smile that lit the ward, the ambulance driver a patient told to F… off, the overworked nurses, cheerily washing their hands at every conceivable moment, rushed off their feet and still caring and kind.

We may have a lousy Health Service but, by God, we should be grateful for the people who staff it.

P.S. Friends will be relieved to hear I cannot die before next weekend: Celia, The Head Ferret, has a very full golf programme. But she has instructed me to be taken ill in the morning when, with luck, she will be at home. Being ill in the afternoon is the sort of thoughtless thing that husbands do


In Germany, a Volvo dealer has been ordered by the court to compensate a buyer around 20,000 euros because the man’s feet were too big to be able to use the new vehicle’s accelerator pedal properly. The money was to allow him to buy snug sports shoes and to compensate for him having to change in and out of them every time he drove the car.

In Sweden, they are proposing to install pedestrian walk control lights in the streets, which show both a man and a woman. This is to provide better gender equality. I’ve never really thought about it but I suppose women can walk across the intersections whenever they like as the red lights only show that men cannot walk – or am I being blonde?

In Sweden (again), they passed a law in 1999 that punishes the buyers of sexual favours with up to six months in jail, but they do not prosecute the prostitutes. When you think about it, it probably makes a lot of sense.

At the White House last week, President George Bush signed a proclamation declaring Malaria Awareness week. There was an awkward moment during the ceremony when Bush said: “This is a great day for all Malarians.”


A friend has called Bruges the most boring city in Europe. Such sauce! What bacon is to the butty, MPs to mortgages and new kitchens, Bruges is to the beer house. If you gave up sleep, you could probably do a comprehensive pub crawl of the city in just over a year.

The oldest pub, the 16th century Vlissinghe on Blekersstraat, has a lovely garden in which customers are ignored. Burghers who went on opening night are probably still waiting to be served. L’estaminet, Park 5, has delicious food and great jazz. The tiny, elegant De Garre, off Breidelstraat, serves beer specially brewed for it, with generous saucers of cheese.

Then there is “t’Brugs Beertje” across the Kemelstraat from the Hobbit Bistro.
The “Little Bear” has furniture you would be stuck with at a boot sale, the walls are a delicate shade of nicotine, though rarely visible for brewery adverts, the seats are hard, the floors innocent of carpet. And I have got it backed as the top beer house of the Western world.

It serves 300 brands of beer, including a special ale brewed for Christmas. With 295 of them I have no quarrel, but there are five others you have to drink in the company of adults - and even then you would fail a test for walking upright.

The Fearsome Five are brewed by Trappist monks who live in perpetual silence. They will tell you it is a vow. Rubbish. Prolonged exposure to their beer has robbed them of the power of speech. Two sips and you arrive at that state where conversation is easy but pronunciation difficult. It is like being mugged with a velvet cosh. Your mind walks in ever diminishing circles, whimpering uneasily.

What can I tell you? The amiable landlord Jan de Bruyne and his wife Daisy run a Beer Academy in the back room, where they share their vast knowledge of beer and quantities of their stock with the customers. I think I went. I even have a certificate to prove it. But there is no name on it, nor is it signed. I do not know what “heeft deelgenomen aan een Seminarie Belgisch Bier” means and I cannot remember a thing I was taught.

If they had sprayed Iraq with Trappist beer Baghdad could have been taken by the Vienna Boys Choir. If you spilt any in the garden you would face green fly the size of horses and butterflies with bomb bays under their wings. In Beaumont and Fletcher’s wise words, here is ale would make a cat speak.

Alas, I missed the pub with 160 chamber pots but I hope to stay in Marian Degraeve’s Kazernevest guest house which offers “clean hot shower and musical toilet”.


“Where we are most vulnerable at this moment is on the ground. To me, this is the most dangerous aspect of flying."
MARK V. ROSENKER, chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. Quoted in the NY Herald Tribune.

And for two more good reads try


1 comment:

Oscar said...

There was an awkward moment during the ceremony when Bush said: “This is a great day for all Malarians.”

Did he really say that?